Aren’t people strange? Why just the other day someone was having a dispute with their neighbour over the number of dogs he had on his property. This man thought he would solve the problem himself. He had the foresight to get his neighbour to sign a document giving him permission to get his shotgun and rifle and go about “destroying” each of the dogs himself. Pity he didn’t have the foresight to inform the authorities. How strange. Although, that’s not the strangest part. It’s the most horrible, the most sickening and the most inexcusable, but not the strangest. What I find strangest are some of the responses and attitudes of the general public. Not that they disagree with his method of choice, but rather the hypocrisy that flows so freely from them.
Today I noticed that there was a group on facebook entitled “The sickos who killed 33 dogs in NZ should be publicly shot”. On this group’s ‘wall’ there are countless outcries of disapproval, including such hypocritical pearls as “Shoot them in the knees leave them for dead” and “I hate violence, but COKSUCKERS like him can get tortured alive !!!!!!!!”. One kind soul has even provided the man’s name, address and mobile number, just in case someone feels the need to act out their grammatically-deficient threats. Now I am in no way condoning what the man did. I’m a dog owner, and it made me nauseous just to think about it. I strongly believe that there should be harsher penalties for cruelty to animals, particularly towards animals registered as pets. It just terrifies me that someone can effectively say ‘what that person did was totally sick; how could someone even THINK of doing something so horrible? I’d like to gut him with a knife and feed him to my dogs’.
The belief that it’s okay to commit acts of great violence towards people who have committed acts of great violence is in itself barbaric. I don’t doubt that the majority of people who make these bold statements would never, and could never, act on them themselves. So presumably they’re asking some higher power to commit these acts. Are these acts then acceptable if done in the name of justice? I’d agree that Police should be able to use force to diffuse a situation. There are non-lethal solutions; however they shouldn’t be convicted if lethal force is required as a last resort. That’s a different story. While it is taking lives in the name of justice, the offender is still offending and therefore still poses a threat. Calling for violence in the name of justice when the offender poses no threat is archaic and disturbing. Public hangings stopped being trendy for a reason. Wishing for violence makes you no different from the perpetrators of violence before they acted on it. By all means, call for justice though. People shouldn’t get away with actions that negatively affect the lives of others. That’s why we have a justice system, which brings me to another point.
The problem with the justice system is that our society is stuck in limbo; somewhere between capital punishment and group discussions. While some members of the public may demand blood, the truth is that it wouldn’t make any difference to their lives whether the guilty party was dead or locked up. In fact, if any of those people ever put their gallows where their mouth is, they might get enough of that blood on their hands to realise that the death penalty is really a lose-lose kind of deal. So instead we lock our criminals up in small rooms and feed them for a pre-defined period of time until we let them out again. How quaint. Whenever I drive over the Khyber Pass on-ramp in Newmarket and look down at the stone walls of Mt Eden prison I get a feeling of depressed confusion. We’ve repeatedly sent people into space, we’ve got remote control toys on the surface of Mars, video calling is available to anyone with an internet connection and movies can be filmed and shown in all three glorious dimensions. We’re living in the future, and yet locking criminals up in small rooms and feeding them for a pre-defined period of time until we let them out again is the best we can come up with?
There are other options I suppose, such as home detention and mental health counselling. I think part of society wants an alternative approach, it’s just too hard to deal with, and much easier to keep locking people up in small rooms. I can’t offer any better alternatives myself. Puppies Behind Bars sounds like a good idea, although it’s more part of the prison system than an alternative to it. The program “trains inmates to raise puppies to become service dogs for the disabled and explosive detection canines for law enforcement”. That may just be the worst possible treatment for the person mentioned above, or it could be the absolute best. Helping criminals understand how their actions have impacted on the lives of others by putting them in their shoes may not be such a bad idea.
I guess the question is do we genuinely want to rehabilitate criminals so that they can become functioning members of society, or do we just want to vent our rage and anger before putting them out of sight and out of mind? Is it even possible to change someone’s mindset enough for the justice system to ever work? I like to think so. I also hold onto the hope that society’s mindset will continue to change. It’s taken a long time for the death sentence to be frowned upon, with any luck the prison system is next. I just hope that in the meantime there are enough people who are refraining from wishing horrendous torture upon criminals long enough to come up with a decent alternative.